Inside Iran, vast majority opposes theocracy, wants liberation: study

Amid mass anti-government protests across Iran, newly published survey data indicates the Iranian people don't want reform but regime change.

Updated: November 26, 2022 - 11:13pm

As anti-government protests continue to rage across Iran, a new study puts data behind what's been unfolding in the streets: The Iranian people are fed up with the Islamist regime in power and the theocratic system it imposes.

The ongoing wave of protests erupted in September, when Mahsa Amini, 22, died in the custody of Iran's so-called morality police, which had allegedly detained her for wearing a hijab, an Islamic head covering that's mandatory for women in Iran, in an "improper" way.

The ensuing demonstrations, which have featured chants calling for the overthrow of the regime, are unprecedented in their scale and pose arguably the greatest threat to the regime since its inception in 1979, according to experts and activists. Some have dubbed the unrest a "revolution."

A key feature of the protests has been the prominent role of girls and women in leading them — but also with the support of much of the male population. A new report by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change highlights how extensively the Iranian people support the demonstrations and oppose those in power.

"Mahsa Amini's death has made her a symbol of resistance not just for the cause of women and girls, but of young men, old men, and all Iranians suffocated by decades of brutality, corruption, and negligence at the hands of a totalitarian Islamist regime," the study states. "As Iranian women flocked bravely to the streets in solidarity with Amini's family and in protest against compulsory hijab, they did so in the knowledge they had the support of the overwhelming majority of Iranians."

The paper, the first in a new series by the Tony Blair Institute in collaboration with the Group for Analyzing and Measuring Attitudes in Iran (GAMAAN), is meant to show trends in polling over two years to help explain the mass protests today and capture the views on the streets of Iran.

One of the study's key findings is that the overwhelming majority of Iranians oppose the hijab, regardless of age. Indeed, 78% of respondents aged between 20 and 29, 68% between 30 and 49, and 74% aged over 50 are against the mandatory imposition of the hijab, according to polling conducted by GAMAAN.

The study also found that this position remains consistent across gender, with 71% of Iranian men and 74% of Iranian women saying they disagree with the mandatory imposition of the hijab.

One reason for such widespread opposition may be that the population is becoming increasingly secular under a theocratic government — in both urban and rural parts of Iran. Only 26% of urban Iranians pray five times a day, as prescribed by traditional Islam, while 33% of rural Iranians do the same, the surveys found. Meanwhile, only 28% of rural Iranians and 21% of urban Iranians believe in the practice of wearing the hijab.

Increased secularization appears to go hand in hand with opposing the government, as the study also showed that among Iranians who want regime change 76% also consider religion unimportant in their lives.

Perhaps most striking, however, is that of those against the compulsory hijab, 84% also want to live in a secular state. "As a secular state is impossible under the Islamic Republic, this is indicative of the demand for regime change among the people," according to the study.

The study comes as more Iranians are speaking out against the regime — both inside Iran and abroad. The Iranian national soccer team made headlines recently for declining to sing along during their national anthem, with some players also speaking in support of the protests.

Iranian authorities on Thursday arrested a soccer player who was not chosen to go the World Cup for criticizing the government.

In response to the protests, the regime has been waging a violent crackdown. According to figures provided by the organized Iranian opposition, there have been hundreds of deaths and tens of thousands of detentions during the last two months of protests. A CNN investigation highlighted how Iran's security forces are weaponizing sexual assault on both male and female activists being held in detention centers in an effort to quell the protesters. The regime has also begun issuing death sentences for some of the protesters.

The U.N. human rights chief on Thursday described the Iranian regime's crackdown as a "full-fledged human rights crisis."

Last year, the United Nations reported that the Iranian regime "violates and undermines women's dignity and fundamental human rights, including the right to equality and non-discrimination." The same report detailed how "the legal age for a girl to marry in the Islamic Republic of Iran is 13 years, with even younger girls allowed to marry with paternal and judicial consent.

Iran also "effectively devalues the worth of a woman's life to half that of a man, and consequently makes women more vulnerable to crime," according to the U.N. report.

Weeks after the report came out, Iran was officially elected to the U.N.'s top women's rights body by the U.N.'s 54-nation Economic and Social Council, which included several Western democracies.

In March, Iran began a four-year term on the Commission on the Status of Women, the "principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women."

Top U.S. officials say they're working with other nations to remove Iran from the commission.

In comments to Just the News, the State Department condemned Iran's "ongoing, brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters," saying death sentences are a way "to intimidate people and suppress dissent."

"Together with partners, we are moving urgently through unilateral actions, multilateral measures, and U.N. mechanisms to hold Iran accountable for employing violence against its own population, particularly women and girls," a spokesperson said.

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